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Katja Röper

LMB, MRC, Cambridge, UK

Mechanisms and mechanics of morphogenesis

My group’s research aims to tackle major unresolved questions in organ formation, in particular how molecular events affect physical properties and changes at the tissue scale . We want to understand the importance of cytoskeletal crosstalk, the coordination of events and forces within a tissue, and the role of spatial and temporal control by upstream transcriptional regulation. To do so, we investigate a highly tractable model process of organ formation in Drosophila and also a powerful organoid culture models of human tissue morphogenesis. Comparison of tube formation in the salivary gland and early nephron reveals both conserved and also tissue-specific regulatory modules and mechanisms. During embryogenesis, organs form through the transformation of simple groups of cells into complex 3D structures. This remarkable feat is accomplished through the collective and controlled changes in the shapes and arrangements of a large number of cells. The central aim of my group is to understand how genetic programmes drive morphological changes in individual cells, and how those shape changes are coordinated through cell-cell interactions across an entire epithelium to sculpt a nascent tissue. Because organ shape is critical for organ function, defects in morphogenesis lead to severe diseases including spina bifida or polycystic kidney disease. Thus, understanding the mechanisms that drive faithful organ formation will elucidate a key aspect of metazoan development, help explain the pathogenesis of various developmental diseases, and may lead to new treatment opportunities.